Prairie School for Union Women


Special Series: Twelve Canadians

Four Days, No Men

By David Kattenburg

In search of ideas on who to profile for this Twelve Canadians series of mine, I reached out to an old friend in Regina, in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.

Cindy nominated a handful of people, Adriane Paavo among them. Adrian has been engaged for years in an innovative labor education project called the Prairie School for Union Women, Cindy told me. I was unfamiliar with the Prairie School. It sounded interesting.

So I flew out to Saskatchewan, my first trip of the series. Sitting at the dining room table in her Regina home, Adriane Paavo filled me in on her history as a grassroots organizer, overseas development worker, and labor educator.  Adriane was among the earliest of the Prairie School’s organizers and facilitators.


CUPE Regional Director Aina Kagis is another Prairie School founder and veteran facilitator. She and I met up at a Regina coffee shop. When our corner of the room became too noisy, we slipped into an adjacent bank vault equipped with a table and chairs. You’ll hear the echo. What’s it like attending the Prairie School, I asked Aina? Like going to an “intellectual spa,” she tells me.

I had hoped to catch a glimpse of the Prairie School’s opening session, in the town site of Prince Albert National Park, on the edge of lovely Waskesiu Lake, a couple of hours north of Saskatoon, but it would not come to be. The Prairie School for Union Women has been an exclusively women’s event for sixteen years. Rules would not be bent at this stage — certainly not for me.

I did get to visit Waskesiu, just after the big event, in the company of my Regina friend Cindy Hanson. Cindy is a popular educator/researcher, specializing in participatory action research (PAR). She’s just launched into the second stage of an extended study on the Prairie School’s accomplishments.

Major finding: The Prairie School has exceeded its objectives in terms of raising the capacity of working women. I sat down with Cindy and one of the PSUW research project’s informants, librarian/labor activist Carole-Ann Wilson, in Cindy’s Regina home.

Thanks to Adriane Paavo for capturing a bit of the Prairie School’s opening session, and to Debbie Lussier for the PSUW photos below. Looks like fun!

Here’s a quirky version of Woody Guthrie’s great version of Woody Guthrie’s Union Maid to sing us out.

Twelve Canadians is a multimedia series about women and men who’ve been devoting their lives to social, economic or environmental justice, and to the healthy development of Canadian communities and the world. Each episode examines a specific issue or situation, through the voices of people who’ve been active in that area. Lots more than just twelve. Thanks to the Social Justice Fund of the Canadian Autoworkers Union for their generous support. Thanks as well to CKUW, University of Winnipeg Radio.

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